The Slatest

Man Detained by ICE Claims He Went Blind in One Eye After Agent Didn’t Believe He Had Diabetes

Activists rally and hold signs outside the Tennessee State Capitol
Activists rally outside the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville on May 31, against a law that will prohibit sanctuary city policies in the state.
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A man swept up in a large Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in East Tennessee says he lost sight in one eye after an ICE agent didn’t believe him when he said he had diabetes.

The Tennessean reported Saturday on the story of Gonzalo Chavez, 42, who worked at a slaughterhouse near Morristown, Tennessee, where he is now staying with a family friend as he recovers and tries to navigate the U.S. immigration system. Chavez, who has been in the country for 20 years, had been sending money back to his family in Mexico and had no criminal record, other than two infractions for driving without a license four years ago.

According to the Tennessean, federal agents raided the rural Tennessee slaughterhouse on April 5, sweeping up 97 workers in what was thought to be the area’s largest immigration roundup in a decade.

Chavez was brought to a detention center in Alabama, and during his week there, he received no medication or medical treatment of any kind, according to his attorney from the Southern Poverty Law Center. ICE is required to screen new detainees for health issues on their first day and refer them to a follow-up health assessment if the screening shows a problem.

After a week, Chavez was transferred to an ICE processing center in Louisiana, where he spent two weeks in the medical clinic, according to the Tennessean. There, Chavez’s feet swelled, his blood pressure shot up, and he was taken to a hospital overnight.

He told the Tennessean that two weeks after he was picked up in the raid, his vision began to blur in his left eye. Eventually, the eye went completely black. “I lost everything,” he told the paper. “I can’t see. I can’t drive. I feel like a burden.”

On top of his blindness, Chavez needs dialysis and a kidney transplant, according to the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, though it’s unclear how his time in ICE custody affected that condition.

Immigration advocates started a GoFundMe page to help Chavez cover his initial bond payment and the cost of his ankle monitor, and he was released July 15. While he was in detention, his landlord rented out his apartment and he lost his clothes and car, leaving him reliant on friends, his savings, and donations from strangers.

A report published in June by the Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other human rights groups, looked at 15 deaths in immigration detention and found that more than half could have been avoided with proper medical treatment.